Archive for September, 2013

Recently I was given three akamatsu (Japanese red pine) work on. The way it works here is we are assigned a tree to work on, given some very simple instructions eg. Wire this tree, cut this tree, etc and the rest is up to us.
Akamatsu can be tricky to work with because they can snap with no warning when you try to bend them, especially small finger thick branches. Also the needles can some times be slightly frail, even when hardened off (depending from tree to tree). Aside that I think they are very nice trees, they can have really good bark in time, delicate looking and respond with multiple buds when candle cut.

Here’s the first tree that I styled, before work.

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Here's Juan San getting in on the action giving scale (I'm sure I've seen that pose somewhere before?!?)

Here’s Juan San getting in on the action giving scale (I’m sure I’ve seen that pose somewhere before?!?)

It wasn’t a straight forward tree. It wasn’t going to be a normal informal upright and the front wasn’t obvious to me at the time, hence why the picture here is in fact ended up the back but, I thought this showed off the movement the best with all it’s needles.

I set about pulling the needles to tufts of about ten pairs. I then went about wiring the bottom branch whilst making my decision on what front to use. It was going to beone of two sides. After I’d wired it I decided that the original photo was going to be difficult to make the front and the trunk looked better from the other side.

I then wrapped the branches that need to be significantly bended (though there were no major bends were needed on this tree) with a kind of plastic tape we use here instead of raffia, which we get from the home centre here. I know their are professionals that swear by raffia and will use nothing else. My feeling after using this that using other material is fine, if it works well. Raffia does have it’s draw backs. You need to wet if before use and it needs to be still wet before bending. Also it can be a pain to remove at a later date sticking to the bark. That’s not such a problem if it’s a juniper but, pines are another matter. Where as the tape we use can go straight on and removes easily with just a cut and unwind. Raffia being breathable is utter tosh, since last time I checked tree’s certainly don’t breath through their bark/trunks.
In severe cases where the tree is growing strongly the tape can constrict the tree and may have to be removed and this needs to be monitored.

Here was the tree after initial styling by me.

Front

Front

Back

Back

Later Oyakata corrected my tree and here was the result.

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Notably he moved the first branch on the left to the left and upward, lowered the back branch and improved the branch structure over all. He told me that I needed to improve my branch structure. Some thing that I kept in mind for the next one.

Take two..

This was the second tree that I had to work on after the needles being pulled.

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Although I found the front easier this time it was obvious that this wasn’t a simple tree. The front I chose was roughly the first photo. I then set about wiring and wrapping anywhere that needed.
Here was the first branch after wiring.
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The second and third branches wired and the top compressed in.

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Here was the final result.

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I wasn’t entirely happy with top I felt I stuck out a little too far and I thought it would be what Oyakata would adjust.

Oyakata then set about correcting my tree. He said that the front I had chosen was good but, their was a straight section as the trunk came down past the main trunk and it wasn’t in-keeping with the nice movement of the tree. This was improved and the branches we’re adjust accordingly. He also compressed the top even more than I had done which, brought the apex in and improved from sticking out so much. Something I’m also learning is that Oyakata has no fear when bending (even with red pines)! Something I need to take on.
Here was the end result.

Front

Front

Side

Side

Other side

Other side

Back

Back

Ok, trying to take all this on board I set about trying to improve my performance on the next one. (Bare with me, on the home straight).

Take 3..

Here was the tree before styling.
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There was an obvious front (pic 1) but, looking at it from the side there was a potentially better front from the side (pic 2) although this isn’t visible in the photo. I preferred the new front but, I consulted Oyakata about this before hand to be sure. It seems the best policy with any major alterations. He said to use the original front as he wanted to sell the tree later in the fall/autumn. So I see to work prepping the tree with plastic and started wiring.
The tree needed the top half bending to improve the movement and make it look more natural. This would also bring down the tree as it was tall and very wide. I’m afraid I don’t have any photo’s with something for scale but, it was so wide it took up nearly the whole width of the screen to take a photo.
Other major work included removing the first left branch as it was too leggy and had bad structure. I then brought a branch from the back to take it’s place.

Here was the end result after working on it.

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It was then down to Oyakata as usual to adjust and correct. The main change he made was to compress the apex down even more than was already done. Doing this the branches then needed to be re-adjusted accordingly. I talked to him about this after and the reason he did this was to make the tree look more unique. If it was style as compressed as I did it, the tree would look more like many other tree’s you see. Something else to consider when styling in the future.
The bottom branches wer also adjusted. The left branch brought up a little, the back branch brought down to make it more visible and the right moved out a little to give the tree a little more direction.

The final result.

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Thanks for sticking with me, it was a hefty post but, I hope you enjoyed it.

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Deshi Life

Posted: September 16, 2013 in Apprentice life, Japan
Tags: , ,

From my experience back home there is quite a romantic view of apprentice/deshi life in Japan. I’m sure this is true but, as I was told by my Sempai, it comes more after your apprenticeship. The reality is that it is hard work and you are completely at the mercy of your Oyakata. Obviously you have a choice whether you are here but, that is about your only choice. You have to do as your told, shower when your told, have days off when your told (with the Japanese work ethic, that’s not often) and your actions are accountable to your Oyakata so, even on your days off, he should know what your up to (to a certain degree). Basically giving up your freedom and doing your time, eating rice for up to 5 years.
There are many trials & tribulations and certainly not all you do will be working on bonsai tree’s. It could well be anything from cleaning floors to washing cars.

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You will be pushed, tested and pressure will increase to perform.
A lot does depend on where you apprentice and who your Oyakata is. Some places are unpaid and hours vary (maybe 6:00 to late at night at times).
If you work hard, try your best and do as your told you can’t go too wrong.

However it is probably one of the best place to learn and become a good bonsai artist. People should be aware though, that just because someone comes to Japan to learn it doesn’t make them good. Not all people who do an apprenticeship, Japanese or foreign (even for five years) actually end up really talented and people should be wary of this looking to artists when the return. Also be aware of blogs etc, where they don’t show their Oyakata’s corrections. Everyone gets corrected especially near the beginning of your apprenticeship. Maybe near the end if your good they may do minor or no corrections.

Some people maybe wondering why I’m going on about this. The reason is that Oyakata asked us if we could try to find some apprentice/s for Daiju-en (where he apprenticed) and I didn’t want to paint apprentice life to be something that it isn’t.
Daiju-en has a pretty traditional apprentice life, with weeding in the morning, unpaid, the gate is locked early evening, the tree’s are big and heavy etc. So, It’s not the easiest place to apprentice but, the Oyakata (Suzuki San) is a very generous person and the family is really nice. The nursery is very famous/prestigious, it’s the birth place of the zuisho white pine and most of the tree’s their, are pines.

Daiju-en photo’s courtesy of Juan.

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So, if you are a committed, driven, passionate about bonsai, hard-working person who is looking to do an apprenticeship then, please contact me with a comment or email (johnmiltonbonsai@outlook.com).

Up next will up a post on three red pines I have worked on.

Thanks for reading.

Recently between me and my fellow apprentice (Juan) we had three junipers to clean and trim. One shimpaku and two Tosho. Juan wanted the shimpaku to work on and I had both of the Tosho’s in the end because I finished my first tree before him.

This is the first tree that I trimmed.

Front

Front

Side

Side

Back

Back

Other side

Other side

This tree has a bit of history, as it was styled by Peter Tea my Sempai this year for my Kinbon magazine, which appeared in Augusts edition. This was its third trim this year even after an out of season re-pot.

The tree after it’s cut back.

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The dead was cut away, a couple of weaker branches were completely left as they were very weak and on slightly weak branch, only the strong growth was cut.

It was fun to work on and I hope Tea Sempai approves.

This is the second Tosho I worked on.

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A very cool tree that I believe was originally collected. I like the way that the trunk is split into two but, it is all the same tree, giving it a uniqueness.

Here’s the tree after it’s trim.

Front

Front

Side

Side

Back

Back

Other side

Other side

The tree is strong all over so, it was a general shape trim all round and the developing branches which, were long were cut back to start to develop some pads.

I hope you enjoyed reading.

Recently I had this Japanese maple to work on

The tree after de-foliation.

The tree after defoliation.

The picture here is in fact the back. In the rush, I didn’t give it a lot of consideration to be honest and there is no direct back branch which, didn’t make it entirely obvious at a quick glance at the time.
Unfortunately I didn’t get round to taking a pic before it was de-foliated but, this tree has a good leaf character.

A couple of pic’s of the base at its front.

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I then cut back the tree (to improve taper and shorter internodes) and proceeded to wire it.

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This was the first time that I had wired a Momiji here, i was a little unsure what finish to go for and I tried to go for the more natural image of the branches rising as they reach the apex.

Once I finished Oyakata looked over the tree and did any corrections that needed to be made.

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There were a couple of bigger cuts on two branches that were made that I should have known better and I need to be a little more aggressive on. Especially with a tree in development, as this one is.
There were some minor alterations on the lower branches but, otherwise little. Noticeably Oyakata preferred to bring the top branches more down. He said that he wouldn’t do this on all tree’s, it just depends on the tree. If the tree was more a more natural style/more tree like then maybe a different feel might be called for. At the end of the day it’s taste and if you look through kokufu books you can see all number of styles. The theory that all Japanese bonsai are “cookie cutter” is a complete myth and couldn’t be further from the truth.

Now the tree will push new late summer growth and will be de-wired after it’s spring flush has hardened next year.

Still quite a way to go for this tree but, hopefully it is going in the right direction.

As always, thanks for reading.